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French surgeon sneaks into Syria to save lives

Dr. Jacques Bérès, a French surgeon who lives in Paris, snuck into Homs, Syria last month to tend to those who have been wounded during the revolt. The New York Times followed this story, where Dr. Bérès worked secretly in an abandoned house with limited equipment and personnel. He operated on 89 people, and all but 9 survived. Dr. Bérès, 71, learned battlefield surgery in Vietnam and helped found Doctors Without Borders in 1971 and Doctors of the World in 1980. Throughout his lifetime, he has spent more than 40 years in dangerous war zones around the world. With the help of smugglers, Dr. Bérès crossed the Lebanese border into Syria in early February, spending about two weeks in Homs. His trip was sponsored by two associations: France-Syria Democracy and UAM93, a federation of Muslim associations in Paris. He appears to be the only Western doctor who has been able to enter Homs, where security forces have been brutalizing the rebels. "I treated all kinds of wounds, from heavy mortars, shots from long-range sniper rifles, high-velocity rounds, shrapnel," Dr. Bérès said. Many arrived to his makeshift hospital already dead, while others were so badly injured that they could not be saved. In addition, several of the victims were children. Dr. Bérès eventually left Homs because he could no longer handle the violence and living conditions, which included sleepless nights, cold weather, and limited food. He also wanted to escape before the city was completely besieged. In reflecting on his experience, Dr. Bérès said he admired the Syrian members of the opposition and their unyielding morale and solidarity. Blood donations, which are usually difficult to obtain in war zones, were never a problem in Homs as civilians were constantly willing to donate to the wounded. Clearly, the need for international aid in Syria is great. Perhaps Dr. Bérès' courage will inspire others to take initiative and offer medical assistance in the region.

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